Whiplash is a soft-tissue injury to the neck caused by the neck bending suddenly and forcibly forward and backward. The motion is very similar to when someone cracks a whip, hence the name “whiplash.” Also known as a neck sprain or neck strain, whiplash usually involves pushing the muscles, discs, nerves and tendons in the neck beyond their normal range of motion. Whiplash injuries can be mild or severe depending on the amount of force behind the injury, and are most often associated with automobile accidents. Whiplash symptoms, such as neck pain, may occur immediately or may be delayed for several days.
Most whiplash injuries are the result of a collision that includes sudden acceleration or deceleration. Many whiplash injuries occur as a result of rear-end automobile collisions, when your head is suddenly forced back and forth. Causes of whiplash can include sports injuries, particularly during contact sports. Any situation which can create a sudden and extreme impact on your body has the potential of being a cause of whiplash.
You may experience one or more of the following symptoms of whiplash:
- Neck pain
- Neck stiffness
- Shoulder pain
- Back pain
- Pain in arm and/or hand
- Numbness in the arm and/or hand
- Abnormal sensations such as burning or prickling
- Ringing in the ears
- Blurred vision
- Concentration or memory problems
- Trouble sleeping
The symptoms of whiplash can possibly resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your physician for an accurate diagnosis.
Treatment for whiplash may include pain medications, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and a cervical collar worn for two to three weeks. Range-of-motion exercises, physical therapy and cervical traction may also be prescribed. Supplemental heat application may also relieve muscle tension.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), neck and head pain from whiplash normally subsides within a few days or weeks. Most patients recover within three months after the injury, although some may continue to have residual neck pain and headaches.
The multidisciplinary team of spine experts at Northwell Health Orthopaedic Institute treats whiplash as well as a broad range of spine conditions that can occur at any stage of life.